The clinometer is an optical device for measuring elevation angles above horizontal. The most common instruments of this type currently used are compass-clinometers from Suunto or Silva. Compass clinometers are fundamentally just magnetic compasses held with their plane vertical so that a plummet or its equivalent can point to the elevation of the sight line. A better clinometer (I believe) is the Abney hand spirit level or clinometer, where the object sighted and the level bubble can be seen simultaneously, so that the index can be set accurately. A spirit level is so-called because it contains alcohol in a tube of large radius, in which the bubble moves to the highest point. Spirit levels are used for accurate surveying, although automatic levels that go back to the principle of the plummet are now
frequently found, and are easy to use.
clinometers include examples such as Well's in-clinometer, the essential parts of which are a flat side, or base, on which it stands, and a hollow disk just half filled with some heavy liquid. The glass face of the disk is surrounded by a graduated scale that marks the angle at which the surface of the liquid stands, with reference to the flat base. The zero line is parallel to the base, and when the liquid stands on that line, the flat side is horizontal; the 90 degree is perpendicular to the base, and when the liquid stands on that line, the flat side is perpendicular or plumb. Intervening angles are marked, and, with the aid of simple conversion tables, the instrument indicates the rate of fall per set distance of horizontal measurement, and set distance of the sloping line.Engineers and other professionals who regularly use clinometers rely on a standard set of formulas to calculate angles. For example, a biological scientist might use a clinometer to calculate the height of a tree, and the formula for this calculation is: the total percent of the height multiplied by the horizontal baseline distance equals the tree height. Therefore, a scientist performing this measurement must position himself the correct distance from the tree and use the scale markings in the clinometer to note percent figures for the trunk and top of the tree. With this data the scientist can accurately calculate the tree's height.